The White Lotus is a pitch-black, six-part HBO satire that should make a specific stratum of spoiled, moneyed western humanity feel “seen”. Created by Mike White (School of Rock; Enlightened) and set in a luxury Hawaiian holiday resort, it begins with a flash-forward: a crate of human remains is loaded on to a plane at the end of a fraught week. Who has died, and why?
Then it’s back to the beginning, where Murray Bartlett’s hotel manager and recovering addict (think: Basil Fawlty slowly being possessed by the spirit of Hunter S Thompson) greets guests with a piquant blend of servility and contempt, while failing to notice that his trainee (Jolene Purdy) is pregnant (“I just thought she was chunky”). The guests troop in, garlanded with tourist leis: Jake Lacy’s Wasp-jock has the emotional depth of a shower tray, and his pettiness over a hotel mix-up repulses his new wife (Alexandra Daddario); a family led by a “mom-CEO” (Connie Britton) includes a twitchy son (Fred Hechinger) and a woke, mean girl daughter (Sydney Sweeney from Euphoria), who has brought along a friend (Brittany O’Grady) who becomes a key conscience of the piece. Another guest, played by Jennifer Coolidge, staggers in carrying her mother’s ashes, and is soon demanding massages and impulsively offering to finance the professional dreams of a good-hearted spa manager (Natasha Rothwell).
From there, The White Lotus evolves (all episodes are now available to view) into an ever-escalating freak show, with a plot that keeps twisting and buckling all the way to a startling finale, involving sex, death, class, money, drugs andmore (no spoilers here; let’s just say this is one of those occasions you’ll be grateful that Smell-O-Vision never took off). It’s relentlessly funny, with biting dialogue and lushly layered characterisation. Kudos to the entire cast, but especially to Bartlett for his masterclass in likable derangement, and to Coolidge for her dazed hot mess of unearned affluence. The White Lotus could be retitled “The Evil That Entitlement Does”, maybe even “Succession-types in the Sun”, though actually it’s stranger and more distinctive than that, revealing a 21st-century hellscape of lost souls. This is the American dream turned nightmare; an amoral cesspit disguised as an infinity pool. It’s also a blast. Enjoy.
Oof. It was Nine Perfect Strangers’ bad luck to come out in the same week as The White Lotus. Based on Liane Moriarty’s bestseller, this eight-part US comedy-drama on Amazon Prime is from the team behind the dramatisation of Moriarty’s Big Little Lies (including Nicole Kidman’s production company, and David E Kelley). It involves a parade of screwed-up humanity (a terrific, presumably eye-wateringly expensive cast, including Melissa McCarthy, Regina Hall, Michael Shannon and Bobby Cannavale) who attend a chic, Goop-style retreat called Tranquillium. It’s presided over by guru figure Masha (Kidman), whose own life was transformed by a near-death experience.
Some characters are engaging: McCarthy’s sardonic romantic novelist; Shannon ambling about like a not-quite-benign Stephen King character (“I’m a chronically loquacious person”); Asher Keddie (Stateless) is dynamite as a grieving mother. You get a hint of the glossy, brittle satire on the wellness industry that Nine Perfect Strangers wants to be. A few episodes in, however, it was flagging. It doesn’t help that Kidman looks so peculiar: wafting about in white robes, with her long, pale hair, it all gets a bit “Gandalf’s sexy daughter”. Even odder, for such a good actor, her supposed eastern European accent keeps having its own near-death experience, sliding into “generalised foreign”. I will persist with Nine Perfect Strangers, but if it carries on like this, I may have to be bribed with a candle that smells of Gwyneth Paltrow’s vagina.
As the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks approaches, the Channel 4 documentary Children of 9/11: Our Story examined the lives of six of the 105 young people whose fathers died in the attacks before they were born. Directed by Liz Mermin, this was a respectful labour of love, involving in-depth interviews and personal videos and photographs. The programme asked: how does a young person cope growing up in such a tragic spotlight; one they’ve been bathed in since being in utero?
There were answers from “9/11 kids” such as Ronald Jr, whose father perished at the Pentagon, and who was philosophical: “You just got to keep going.” Claudia and Nicholas both had dads who died at the World Trade Center. Claudia ended up with an interest in criminal justice. Megan, a fan of the Smiths, once felt anger at the US government: “That was probably all the punk music I was listening to at the time.”
I’ve seen some of these children interviewed before, but this was nicely done, with some deep-dives into recent challenges (Covid, Trump). As more of the subjects’ personalities and interests came through, the documentary took on a Seven Up feel. These were children born into a new millennium, in tragically exceptional circumstances – it will always be interesting to hear from them.
Back for a second six-part series, Ladhood (BBC One) is a wry comedy, that started out on Radio 4, from Edinburgh comedy award-winning Liam Williams. In it, he ponders, usually standing in the actual scene, the preposterous antics of his teenage self, swaggering and sulking with his mates around Garforth, Leeds. The older Liam (Williams himself) appears to be trying to ascertain where young Liam (Oscar Kennedy) stops and adult Liam begins.
In the opening episode (all are available to stream), adult Liam has been (rightly) dumped by his girlfriend and messes up a date, which is prime Ladhood territory. It’s a little like The Inbetweeners, in terms of youthful friendships, but with no “posh” characters, a period-vibe (hello again, Myspace) and a throbbing vein of male rage: Liam has anger issues, and a reputation for kicking bins. At times, Ladhood is funny (the Young Liam sections especially have a strong surrounding cast), with deft observations on such matters as sex, driving tests and trying to befriend “the indie lot”. I still can’t work out whether Williams pities or envies his younger self, but perhaps that’s the whole point.
Alibi | alibi.uktv.co.uk
A new Scandi noir-type crime series from Nick Walker, in which Nicola Walker (no relation) reprises her Radio 4 role as single-parent detective who comes from Norway to help a Scottish homicide unit. Walker breaks the fourth wall, speaking directly to the camera.
I Am Maria
Channel 4 | channel4.com
After powerful turns from Suranne Jones and Letitia Wright, Lesley Manville gives the final standalone performance of three-part series from Dominic Savage. Manville is exceptionally good (Bafta-worthy?) as a woman unravelling in a stifling marriage.
Memories of a Murderer: The Nilsen Tapes
Netflix | netflix.com
This feature-length documentary about the serial killer Dennis Nilsen uses previously unheard private recordings found in his cell after his death, in which he talks about his appalling crimes.